Brothers Torgeir (left) and Henning Bjørge helm Mathias Bjørge AS — a family-owned seafood processing company that has been in existence since 1962. The plant is located on family-owned land in Ellingsøy, the northernmost island in Ålesund.
Jamaicans eat a lot of salt fish. We consume so much that our small island nation is one of the most important markets for Norwegian salt fish. Per a 2020 quantitative study commissioned by the Norwegian Seafood Council, “Jamaicans are one of the largest consumers of salt fish per capita in the world.” Each year Jamaicans consume over 5.7 million kilograms of salt fish — we’re the second-highest consumers, per capita, globally after Portugal.
With all of that consumption, Thursday Food and many Jamaicans believe that we are salt-fish experts. That’s until you see how it is processed, which is an eye-opener. Once you see the steps involved, you’ll never take a piece of salt fish for granted again.
Our fourth day in Norway as guests of the Norwegian Seafood Council saw us travelling to Ellingsøy — the northernmost island in Ålesund. Yes, we flew from Tromsø, connecting through Oslo, to the relatively warmer climate of Ålesund. We visited family-owned seafood processors Mathias Bjørge AS. Fun fact: the company and Jamaica both celebrate their 60th anniversaries this year. Mathias Bjørge and his son Karl started the company in 1962, and Karl’s sons Torgeir and Henning are currently running the company. Fun fact: Karl’s wife and Torgeir and Henning’s stepmother is a Jamaican woman named Sharon!
In Thursday Food’s day four in Norway recap, we’ll let Naphtali Junior’s strong photos speak for themselves and show the step-by-step process of freshly caught saithe becoming salt fish.
Step 1 After saithe are caught, each fish is partially gutted, beheaded and flash-frozen on the fishing vessel. When the fish arrive at Mathias Bjørge AS, they are placed in massive seawater tanks, kept at the same temperature as the Norwegian waters, to defrost.
Step 2 The saithe take a journey down a conveyer belt where they get rinsed.
Step 3 The bladders are removed and set aside to sell to the Chinese market, which considers them a delicacy.
Step 4 Another rinse, this time by hand, to ensure that any loose flesh and bladder particles are removed.
Step 5 The saithe are sorted according to size and get another plunge in salt water before being packed with bins and covered with layers of salt.
Step 6 Each layer of saithe in the bins gets a “salt shower”. Fun fact: Mathias Bjørge AS uses 1.3 million kilograms of salt each year.
Step 7 When the bins are full, they get covered in plastic wrap and spend three weeks being cured.
Step 8 After being removed from the bins, the fish is loosely packed on pallets, wrapped and spend another two to three weeks allowing the salt to dehydrate the flesh of the saithe.
Step 9 After drying on the pallets, the excess salt is removed from each piece of fish by hand. Also, as an ecologically minded company, Mathias Bjørge AS recycles the salt by returning it to the sea.
Step 10 The salted saithe then spend five to seven days drying on racks so that any damaging excess moisture evaporates.
Step 11 After four days in cold storage, the salt fish is inspected and graded before packaging. There are three grades of salt fish - superior, universal, and popular. Mathias Bjørge AS Purchase/Sales Manager Torgeir Bjørge closely inspects his top-quality salt fish.
Step 12 Extra eyes for quality control don’t hurt. Mathias Bjørge AS Purchase/Sales Manager Torgeir Bjørge (left) shows Norwegian Seafood Council Director of Brazil and the Caribbean Øystein Valanes (centre) and Jamaican Executive Culinary Artist Oji Jaja a piece of superior-grade salt fish.
Step 13 In the final step, the salt fish is packed in cardboard boxes and kept in a cold room, ready to be exported to Jamaica.